New Book: Indebted: How Families Make College Work at Any Cost

September 10, 2019

Former RSF visiting scholar, anthropologist Caitlin Zaloom (New York University) is the author of a new book, Indebted: How Families Make College Work at Any Cost, published by Princeton University Press. Zaloom was a visiting scholar during the 2013-2014 academic year. She recently wrote an op-ed for the New York Times on how paying for college is changing American middle-class family life. The article explores the ways in which paying for college has become a moral obligation for American middle-class families, compelling them to assume financial risk in order to do so. 

Indebted demonstrates that the struggle to pay for college is one of the defining features of middle-class life in America today. At kitchen tables all across the country, parents agonize over whether to burden their children with loans or to sacrifice their own financial security by taking out a second mortgage or draining their retirement savings in order to pay college tuition and fees. The book, based on 160 interviews with parents and students who borrow to pay for higher education, takes readers into the homes of middle-class families throughout the nation to reveal the hidden consequences of student debt and the ways that financing college has transformed family life.

Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education in the Obama administration, praised the book’s “groundbreaking research on the financial lives of middle-class families,” and calls it “required reading for everyone concerned about the costs of higher education―students, parents, and policymakers alike." Economic sociologist and former RSF visiting scholar Viviana Zelizer (Princeton University) writes that “Indebted transforms our understanding of college finances” by showing that today, “notions of good parenting pivot on providing children with a college education regardless of expense.” 

Indebted has received encouraging early reviews. Publishers Weekly calls Indebted a “comprehensive exposé of the college-financing industry” and says that “the analysis, with its emphasis on the moral dilemma facing middle-class families, will resonate with parents confronting it." Hua Hsu, in a review for the New Yorker, writes: "Indebted ends up being a story about modern families—about how we understand our responsibilities toward one another in a time of diminishing prospects…At times, Indebted reads like an ethnography of a dwindling way of life, an elegy for families who still abide by the fantasy that thrift and hard work will be enough to secure the American Dream."

Read more about Indebted and order the book here.


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